Gur­net Point-backed Au­re­gen taps Am­gen vet to lead; Ex-Roche RNA chief takes CEO post at Genevant

Gur­net Point Cap­i­tal-backed Au­re­gen Bio­Ther­a­peu­tics has tapped Am­gen vet Richard Davies to lead its rare dis­ease cell ther­a­py’s en­try in­to the clin­ic as CEO. Davies, a for­mer Hos­pi­ra chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer who had his first chief ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence re­cent­ly at Bone­sup­port, will lead the dri­ve in trans­lat­ing the Gene­va-based biotech’s 3D bio­fab­ri­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies to new ther­a­peu­tics, start­ing from a pro­gram in rare con­gen­i­tal cran­io­fa­cial dis­or­ders.

→ Brick­ell Biotech has hired in­dus­try vet­er­an and Lil­ly $LLY Chief Mar­ket­ing Of­fi­cer Robert Brown to take the reins at the der­ma­tol­ogy com­pa­ny as it preps a late-stage tri­al eval­u­at­ing its drug, sof­piro­ni­um bro­mide, in pa­tients with ex­ces­sive un­der­arm sweat­ing in the first half of 2019. Brown, who has spent over three decades at Lil­ly, is set to re­place Brick­ell’s cur­rent CEO and co-founder Regi­nald Hardy on Jan­u­ary 1.

Bo Rode Hansen is step­ping up from a CSO po­si­tion to take the top job at Genevant. Un­like the rest of Vivek Ra­maswamy’s biotech fam­i­ly, the com­pa­ny is not in-li­cens­ing late-stage pro­grams, but build­ing a pipeline from scratch us­ing Ar­bu­tus’ RNA tech, with the aim of de­liv­er­ing more than five in-house and part­nered can­di­dates for clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment by 2020. Hansen, the for­mer glob­al head of RNA at Roche with 50 dis­cov­ery pro­grams un­der his belt, will play a lead­ing role along­side a sea­soned ex­ec team.

→ A year af­ter Mary Szela left the helm of Nov­e­l­ion Ther­a­peu­tics $NVLN, the rare dis­ease biotech is shak­ing up its CEO of­fice again. Jef­frey Hack­man, the for­mer COO who’s been fill­ing in, has re­signed as in­ter­im CEO, pass­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to gen­er­al coun­sel Ben­jamin Harsh­barg­er. Hav­ing helped se­cure a re­cent loan fa­cil­i­ty, Harsh­barg­er is charged with the grand turn­around mis­sion by first fix­ing the cap­i­tal struc­ture.

→ Al­most a year af­ter step­ping down from Syn­er­gy Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — a com­pa­ny he found­ed and co-in­vent­ed the lead drug for — Gary Ja­cob has land­ed at a mi­cro­bio­me biotech in Aus­tralia. As CEO, Ja­cob is ex­pect­ed to chan­nel both his de­vel­op­ment, fi­nan­cial and com­mer­cial ex­per­tise in steer­ing Im­muron’s $IM­RN pipeline of oral­ly de­liv­ered poly­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies, which is led by a pro­gram for liv­er dis­eases.

→ Fol­low­ing a wide-rang­ing ca­reer fea­tur­ing stints at No­var­tis, L’Ore­al and SBM Man­age­ment Ser­vices, Stephan Jack­man has been ap­point­ed CEO of Alza­mend Neu­ro, a biotech de­vel­op­ing a cou­ple of Alzheimer’s drug can­di­dates out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Flori­da. Pri­or to the new role, Jack­man was fo­cused on ad­vanc­ing cures for mos­qui­to borne in­fec­tious dis­eases as COO of En­naid Ther­a­peu­tics.

→ New­ly pub­lic Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics $MG­TA has scooped Ja­son Ryan from Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine to be its chief op­er­at­ing and fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer. The high fly­ing Cam­bridge start­up, which has a port­fo­lio fo­cused on bone mar­row trans­plant, can ben­e­fit from Ryan’s ex­pe­ri­ence in cap­i­tal cre­ation and al­lo­ca­tion as well as com­mer­cial plan­ning, says CEO Ja­son Gard­ner, as demon­strat­ed in his ef­forts with Foun­da­tion’s re­cent sale to Roche.  

→ Gothen­burg, Swe­den-based Iso­fol has hired Roger Tell — a bio­phar­ma vet who’s al­so run mul­ti­ple tri­als as a prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor — to run its clin­i­cal pro­gram as it ad­vances its lead prod­uct can­di­date in­to Phase III. Ar­foli­tixorin, de­vel­oped through a part­ner­ship with Mer­ck KGaA, is de­signed to boost the ef­fects of chemother­a­py main­ly in col­orec­tal can­cer. As CSO and SVP of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, Tell will al­so over­see  sci­en­tif­ic re­search and tech­ni­cal op­er­a­tions.

→ With its Phase III pro­grams well un­der­way, Apel­lis Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $APLS has tapped Adam Townsend to plot a mar­ket­ing plan for APL-2 — its com­ple­ment C3 in­hibitor look­ing to ri­val Soliris in parox­ys­mal noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria — and al­so build a fran­chise in ge­o­graph­ic at­ro­phy, an ad­vanced form of age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion. The new chief com­mer­cial joins from Bio­gen, where he helped lead the launch­es of Tec­fidera and Spin­raza.

→ Fol­low­ing an 11-year ca­reer run­ning clin­i­cal op­er­a­tions for mul­ti­ple units — in­clud­ing the oph­thalmic fran­chise — at No­var­tis, Fabio Baschiera is jump­ing to an oph­thal­mol­o­gy start­up backed by the phar­ma gi­ant. His new ti­tle at Oculis will be VP of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Al­so join­ing the Swiss biotech: Louie-Anne Gau­thi­er, who will now scout deals for Oculis’ eye drop al­ter­na­tives for in­jectable drugs as its VP of strate­gic mar­ket­ing, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and li­cens­ing.

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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That $335M JV Bay­er set up on CRISPR/Cas9? They’re let­ting the biotech part­ner car­ry on

Bayer committed $300 million to set up a joint venture on CRISPR/Cas9 tech with CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP. But they’re handing off control now to the smaller biotech while retaining a couple of opt-ins for programs nearing an IND.

Bayer $BAY made much of the fact that they were going all-in on gene editing when they did their deal 3 years ago with CRISPR Therapeutics, which pitched $35 million in on their end. This was the cornerstone of their plan to set up new JVs that could make some serious leap forwards in hot new R&D spaces. Now CRISPR will have full management control of Casebia as they pursue programs in hemophilia, ophthalmology and autoimmune diseases.
Samarth Kulkarni, the CEO at CRISPR, made it sound like a natural progression.

J&J's block­buster Ste­lara wins US ap­proval for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis

J&J’s Stelara, which is set to be in the top ten list of blockbusters come 2025, is now cleared by the FDA for use in ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory disease of the large intestine.

The biologic targets interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 cytokines, which are known to play a key role in inflammatory and immune responses. Stelara, which generated about $4.7 billion in the first nine months of 2019, is a key player in the crowded marketplace of drugs to treat autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. AbbVie’s star therapy, Humira, continues to dominate, despite its looming patent cliff in the United States, while others including J&J’s $JNJ own anti-IL23 Tremfya, Lilly’s $LLY anti-IL-17 Taltz and AbbVie’s $ABBV recently approved anti-IL-23 antibody Skyrizi carve out a slice of market share.

Drug com­pa­nies reach $260M set­tle­ment just ahead of opi­oid tri­al; Oys­ter Point set terms for $85M IPO

→ Hours before the first federal opioid trial was set to begin, three drug distributors and an opioid manufacturer agreed to a $260 million agreement settlement, the Wall Street Journal was the first to report. The deal — which will see McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen pay $215 million to Summit and Cuyahoga counties, and Teva deal out $35 million in cash and addiction treatments — does not resolve the pending, nationwide litigation that may result in a settlement worth upwards of $40 billion. Negotiators in that case, brought by 2,300 tribes, counties and cities nationwide and led by several states’ attorneys general, worked through much of Friday without success. Josh Stein, the attorney general for North Carolina, said they were trying to put together a $48 billion deal.

GSK of­floads two vac­cines in $1.1B deal as it works to re­vive the pipeline

GlaxoSmithKline is leaving the deep dark woods and its viruses behind.

GSK has agreed to divest its vaccines for rabies, RabAvert, and tick-born encephalitis vaccine, Encepur, to Bavarian Nordic, part of the company’s broader efforts to narrow its pipeline and focus on oncology and immunology.

The deal is worth up to nearly $1.1 billion, with a $336 million upfront payment. GSK acquired the vaccines from Novartis as part of an exchange for their late-stage oncology programs in 2015 under former chief Sir Andrew Witty.

Pfiz­er gets some en­cour­ag­ing PhI­II news on a fran­chise sav­ior, but is a dos­ing ad­van­tage worth the $295M up­front?

Close to 3 years after Opko tried to defend itself as shares tumbled on the news that its long-acting growth hormone had failed to outperform a placebo, the Pfizer partner $PFE is back. And this time they’re pitching Phase III data that demonstrate their drug is non-inferior — or maybe a tad better — than their well-known but fading standard in the field.
The comparator drug here is Genotropin, which earned a marginal $142 million for Pfizer last year — down 9% from the year before. Approved 24 years ago, biosimilars are now in development that Pfizer would like to stay out in front of. The market leader here is Norditropin, a growth hormone from Novo Nordisk that uses the same basic ingredient as Genotropin, which the Danish company sells with a kid-friendly self-injectable pen. That would also present some big competition if the new therapy from Opko/Pfizer makes it to the market.
The new data, says researchers, underscore that a weekly injection of somatrogon performed as well or slightly better than Genotropin (somatropin) in young children with growth hormone deficiency. Investigators tracked height velocity at 10.12 cm/year, edging out the older drug’s 9.78 cm/year. That 0.33 difference may not prove compelling to payers, though, who have been known to overlook dosing advantages in favor of lower costs.
That message may have weighed on the stock reaction this morning, with a 30%-plus hike $OPK giving way to more marginal gains.
Back in late 2016, Opko had to defend itself against a devastating Phase III setback as their initial late-stage trial failed against a sugar pill. Opko later blamed that setback on outliers in the study, though it wasn’t able to expunge the failure.

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As­traZeneca's Farx­i­ga scores FDA nod to cut risk of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion for heart fail­ure in di­a­bet­ics

While the FDA recently spurned an application to allow AstraZeneca’s blockbuster drug Farxiga for type 1 diabetes that cannot be controlled by insulin, citing safety concerns — the US regulator has endorsed the use of the SGLT2 treatment to reduce the risk of hospitalisation for heart failure in patients with type-2 diabetes and established cardiovascular disease or multiple CV risk factors.